Why New York’s fracking ban matters

The science is not in on fracking. There is lots of anecdotal evidence that fracking causes all manner of  problems, including contaminated water supplies and possibly even earthquakes. But especially when compared to other conventional energy generation techniques, including tar sands and nuclear power, it is unclear if banning fracking should be an environmentalist’s top priority.

There is, for example, no evidence at all the fracking leads to breast cancer (contrary to the borrowed graphics in my Pinkwash post). Yes, there are lots of nasty chemicals in fracking fluids, and certainly lots of them are toxic. But as my toxicologist and environmentalist friend Will Forest is fond of reminding me, “The first rule of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison.” Volumetrically, the amount of these chemicals being put into the water supply may well be so tiny as to not be a huge problem.

We do know there are better ways

We do know there are better ways

We can still unhesitatingly celebrate the New York ban anyway, for several reasons. At the top of the list is that fracking technology in the US has been promoted by the oil industry with a principal focus on profits. Dick Cheney famously exempted fracking companies from the Clean Water Act, creating what is oft referred to as the Halliburton Loophole, after the company he once ran. Fracking companies have successfully avoided even listing all the chemicals they use in the process, siting the importance of their “trade secrets,” again prioritizing profits over public health, while also impeding the investigation of health science. The EPA has been a tool of the oil industry, and not just under Bush/Cheney, revising their critical findings almost whenever the industry complains.

Gasoline prices in the US are low, largely because of fracking. The US enjoys a significant competitive advantage over both Europe and Japan, with natural gas prices of 1/3 to 1/4 respectively. The oil industry estimates that unconventional oil and gas production will more than double the current 1.7 million jobs it provides by 2035. But none of this economic “good news” should change our mind about the NY fracking ban, or any other state’s effort to ban this controversial process.

The end of peak oil, for now.

The end of peak oil, for now.

What is the absolute worst case here? Let’s assume the industry is right. If it turns out that there are no or only minimal environmental effects due to fracking, the science comes in and proves that this fear-based campaign to stop fracking in New York was a complete mistake. Then the fantastically powerful oil industry will simply get the next governor of NY to reverse the ban (which they’ll likely attempt anyway) and all that will have been lost is next quarters profits.

We can afford to wait.

Congrats to NY activists who won this fight

Congrats to NY activists who won this fight

Transformus: The View from the Post Office


This is a beautiful long piece on the 2013 Transformus event and the Post Office that we organized specifically.

Originally posted on Disrupting Dinner Parties:

I’m finally unpacking my bags from Transformus.

It was over a week ago, which breaks even my extreme procrastination standards for belated readjustment from travel. But as I unpacked this morning, I started to understand why I let my bags sit undisturbed by my door for so many days. It’s been  touched by Transformus, I realized as I unzipped the sides. As I sorted through the gifts I had received, my suitcase seemed like one of those magic bags from the Raymond Feist books. My suitcase is the same weight as it was when I left, but filled with all new items. It traveled through miles of dirt, tumbleweeds, and dust, but its color is still a lush green. Touched.

In the first pocket, I found a new necklace, an unope,ned box of earplugs, three pairs of new sunglasses, a red feather boa, Asprin, a leather Xena-ish top, and…

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Electricity storage’s time has come


I especially like the idea that battery technology today is where PV was 10 years ago. At the beginning of a dramatic drop in prices.

Originally posted on GreenWorld:

Part of the "smart town" Panasonic is building in Japan.

Part of the “smart town” Panasonic is building near Tokyo, Japan.

Everyone knows that solar and wind power are variable energy sources; neither on its own produces electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For that matter, no electricity source can do that indefinitely: nuclear reactors have to be shut down for weeks for refueling every 12-18 months and occasionally suffer unplanned shutdowns; coal plants break down and need repairs, so do gas-powered turbines.

Thus, backup power is needed whatever the main source of power may be. In solar and wind’s case, their variability is more pronounced. But their variability is predictable: for example, grid operators know that solar isn’t going to produce at night, when the sun is down. Of course, power demand is down most of the night too–not as big a problem as it might appear.

These days knowledgeable grid operators…

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The most ambiguous word i use

“Who is this ‘We’ you keep referring to?” One Facebook commenter wrote recently.  It is a great question actually.

In this particular case, i was referring to the intentional communities movement.  “We” are consuming dramatically fewer resources than our mainstream counter parts, because we are sharing.


But i also use it identify Twin Oaks and Acorn specifically, as large, established, successful, income sharing communities.

These are the toothbrushes "we" use.

These are the toothbrushes “we” use.

i regularly refer to the anti-nuclear movement as “we”.

no nukes

Sometimes “We” is the infamous Star Family


Often i use the word “We” to denote the entire set of people who want to change the world for the better.

If we can just think more about "we" than "me"

If we can just think more about “we” than “me”

Occasionally, it is the term i use to describe polyamory activists.


But of course the most simple approach is the just do the simple translation in your head.  When i say “We”, it is always safe to compress it down to simple mean “i”

Commune as Applied University

In a recent blog post comparing the experience of life at Twin Oaks (or Acorn) with that of the mainstream i said a number of things including:

More security, less privacy.  More community, less personal access to money.  More flexibility, less resume building opportunities.

Tree responded to this by writing a comment that said:

You wrote, “less resume building opportunities.” I disagree. For all but the few members who are abandoning some high-profile career path to be there, TO has way *more* resume-building opportunities than outside. Arrive knowing nothing, manage a major program within a year. Many members use that knowledge to get or create great jobs when they leave.

And, as is almost always the case, everything Tree says is true.  It is perhaps because i once came from this high profile career path that i answered this way. career path

The FEC communities don’t require you to arrive with any particular skills or money, instead what you need is reasonable to good communication skills and a willingness to learn things and work. We will train you.  And as Tree points out, the training is vast.  You can learn how to run a business, or a dairy program, or a to program computers, or keep bees, or fix buildings, or teach kids, or how to get arrested at a protest, how to milk a cow, or run a saw mill, or a sewage treatment plant, or make cheese, or build a straw bale, or plumbing, carpentry or auto mechanics (please come and learn auto mechanics!).  And this is just the beginning of the list. A number of young members have come after college and learned many of the things which a trade school would have taught, but in a more relaxed and self paced environment.  They build elaborate tree houses, learned to cook tasty vegan food for scores of people at once, how to fish or skin a deer. work and life balance What the flexibility of community living provides in these cases opens an entire world of assisted self directed learning.  The communities have basically open “Teach” budgets in which you can get trained in anything that you are interested in and the member who trains you gets labor credits for the skills transfer (you as a student do not get labor credits, unless it is something you are learning to support one of our regularly budgeted domestic or income areas).

Nurturing a spirit of inquiry.

Nurturing a spirit of inquiry.

So Tree is right, if you are not trying to be the Chief Technology Officer at GigaCorp or the Senior VP for Operations at DowJones Inc, then a stay at the communes will not set your resume back, and could well advance it if you are motivated enough to learn inside of this myriad of possibilities.

Famous for playing video games

Willow and Jonah in Al Jazeera

Willow and Jonah in Al Jazeera

i would be lying if i said i was surprised that Al Jazeera managed to catch a picture of my son playing video games.  He plays a fair few of them.  This was part of a slide show of pictures they took recently capturing community life, which is part of a larger article they did on the community, featuring Willows other dad, Sky Blue.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Anissa (who is part of the Star family and was part of Willow’s parenting collective at one point) is capturing a little media attention with her son, Jed about kids eating the food they grow.  And treated like the rock star she is the New Zealand Herald is tracking her get aways to the city.

anissa and jed

[This post has been approved by Anissa and Willow]

Solar comes (finally) to (much of) the Southeast


An update on the status of several southern US states regarding solar and specifically Florida’s absurd criminalization of solar installations/

Originally posted on GreenWorld:

Perhaps the most misleading state welcoming sign ever--at least if you think "sunshine" should equal solar power.

Perhaps the most misleading state welcoming sign ever–at least if you think “sunshine” should equal solar power.

When it comes to solar power, the Southeast U.S.–despite its abundant sunshine–has long been like the kid at the back of the class who refuses to raise her hand: a complete non-participant in the action.

That is now changing, rapidly.

The Southeast traditionally has lagged behind most of the U.S. in solar power, but that is beginning to change.

The Southeast traditionally has lagged behind most of the U.S. in solar power, but that is beginning to change.

Take North Carolina. From 2010 to 2013, solar capacity skyrocketed from 40 MW to 469 MW, and the growth continues. Solar potential in the state is enormous: a new report says the state could produce 30 times as much electricity as it currently uses with solar power.

And take a look at Georgia. It is now the fastest growing solar state in the country. Regulators there are requiring 525 MW of solar…

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